“More enjoyable to eat out in Belfast than in Provence”

Leo McKinstry has fallen in love again with the place where he was born and came to loathe throughout the Troubles. But Belfast has come to life in the last few years and enjoys levels of security that can only be dreamed of in some metropolitan centres of northern England…

  • Mark McGregor

    This food argument is one I just don’t get, while some of the top end restaurants can turn out decent food even they often fail to hit the spot. The naming of the long closed Roscoff makes me think this article may be based more on dreams than reality – wasn’t it the first local restaurant to lose its Mitchell star and then promptly reduce expectations and never try again?

    The real difference is the budget to middle bracket, you are still guaranteed absolute crap in most of this range. I go by the coffee test, if you can’t get a decent cup its not much of an eaterie and you can’t get decent coffee in
    most of Belfast.

    The places may be glitzier, the menus more eclectic but when push comes to shove its all pretty bog standard compared to countries with a tradition of respecting food.

    Notable exception – Mourne Seafood.

  • Turgon

    Can I put a plug in for Aldens on the Newtownards Road. To my mind the best restaurant in town.

  • Moochin Photoman

    Yup seems a bit dated the Ulster Museum is shut for the next 18 months
    Ginger is great bistro well worth sampling the delights of.

  • Mark McGregor

    To add: another big factor in judging a city’s gastronomic credentials – can you get an authentic Italian meal? Since Gigolo’s closed on Donegal Pass, Belfast doesn’t even have a single authentic Italian restaurant. Doesn’t have a sound Indian, you have to go to Templepatrick for that. Chinese does fare a little better.

    It’s all fluff based on very low expectations.

  • I’d have to disagree Mark. I’ve had quite a few nights out on Belfast City Centre recently of all the restaurants I’ve eatten in I can honestly say that only one left me feeling dissapointed, more at the price than the quality fo food. Belfast isn’t perfect but it’s definately came on leaps and bounds and is definately on par with any other largish UK city.

  • BonarLaw

    I’m with Pounder. Compared to Cardiff Belfast is foodie heaven. Oh, Dewi…

  • Bemused

    Jesus – what an hysterically deluded puff-piece. The reality?

    Deane’s – utter shite – general consensus is that he’ll lose his star next year.

    Roscoff’s Brasserie – terribly average despite it’s frantic efforts to obtain a star.

    Mourne Seafood – perfectly acceptable in a rustic sort of way but situated in a truly grim and depressing part of town (I saw one of the indigenous street drinkers taking a dump – yes, a dump – against a nearby wall on one of my recent visits).

    Ginger – still pretty good but again, nothing spectacular.

    Schu – arguably the best in the town at the minute but still nowhere near one star territory.

    Nick’s – very consistent, humble, well-made food.

    Macau – excellent.

    The Merchant – very poor quality food with risible service – an utter disgrace given the inherent beauty of the dining room.

    The Culloden – an utter, utter, utter dump – a friend from London stayed there before Christmas despite my warnings – he ended up with food poisoning – ’nuff said.

    Anywhere else even worth commenting on? Not as far as I’m concerned.

    And – ‘levels of security that can only be dreamed of…’ – has this guy actually walked around the town at night? It’s a complete fucking disaster zone – the place is absolutely polluted with feral sub-human scum from all manner of city sink estates quite happily marauding about spitting, puking and assaulting all round them….

  • Mark McGregor

    Ah, I see…..are you comparing ‘British’ standards? My expectations are more European.

    I’ve no idea how Belfast compares with Britain.

  • Bemused

    Turgon – sorry, you’re right – Aldens deserves a mention as being half decent – although nowhere near as good as it was with Cath Gradwell at the helm.

    Mark – you’re absolutely right, friends and I have been plotting for the last couple of years to open a proper Italian restaurant (Villa Italia etc. are utter crap) in the town (something like Valvona and Crolla) – we reckon we’d do well – any thoughts?

  • The__Raven

    Bemused, if you can do it as well as La Sosta – the only saving grace in a very awful town – you’re on to a winner.

  • BonarLaw

    Mark McGregor

    actually compared to other UK cities Belfast does very well on the food stakes- London (obviously) and Edinburgh are better, nowhere else could be said to be streets ahead.


    spot on about the Merchant, too generous about the hellish Culloden. The feral scum-in-sportswear are a real problem in Belfast given the proximity of their slums to the city centre.

  • Mark McGregor


    That’s my real email address, if you go for it I suggest three things – hire a decent Italian chef, use the best of produce and give me a shout to get my booking.

    The saddest day of my eating life in Belfast was Toni’s closing do. The easiest place I’ve ever ordered – “I’ll have what Toni is having tonight”.

  • BonarLaw


    Valvona and Crolla- my point exactly about Edinburgh. I had a fantastic long Friday in there last October with the wife. Fellow diners even included the First Minister. The Fourth Floor at Harvey Nics is also good as is the Scotsman.

  • Mark McGregor

    Always wanted to know what the Ulster Reform Club is like? Sensitive handling of local dishes using great produce? Or an affectation for big house Unionists who lunch?

  • I went to Bourbon for dinner a few weeks ago and can honestly have no complaints, even on a busy night my every request was delt with quickly and promptly, the food was excelent and it cost me somewhat less than expected.

  • Bemused

    Mark – will do – feel sorry that I missed Gigolo’s – often drove past it and wondered….

    Raven – LaSosta would be just what we’re after. To be honest the biggest problem we’d face wouldn’t be getting a premises or a supplier or a chef but simply getting waiting and front of house staff who could speak coherently, politely and knowledgably about anything. In fairness to the Mourne and Ginger their waiting staff are absolutely superb.

  • Moochin Photoman

    What about Goodfellas?

  • Bemused

    Pounder – you either (a) work in, own or are a financial stakeholder in Bourbon or (b) you are constantly drunk. Only ever wandered in once – not unlike the Merchant in that the room has great potential but is let down by utterly horrendous, car-crash food, atrocious service and a general impression of dirtiness. Know a number of friends who’ve been forced to eat there on work ‘do’s’ – all confirm it’s ghastliness.

  • Turgon

    Mark McGregor,
    Yes I wonder about the Ulster Reform Club. I would also be quite interested in joining but I do not know any members and Elenwe says it sounds like the Masons.

  • Mark McGregor


    I didn’t say I was interested in joining. Though if any members wish to vouch for a Marxist Republican I’m up for the craic. Just as long as I don’t have to sit in the downmarket TUV section ;0)

  • Turgon

    You win, I can’t answer that. Though did not Lenin have a Rolls Royce?

  • Dr Strangelove

    I only ate in the Merchant once, but thought it was quite good actually, could not fault the food or the service.

    One seriously over priced and overrated eaterie is James Street South.. all style and no substance.

  • joeCanuck

    I do hope Slugger has very deep pockets in view of some of these reviews (the poorish sort of ones).
    Or perhaps you’re counting on not being able to get blood from a stone.
    Expect a knock on the door.

  • joeCanuck

    He didn’t mention the Stormont dining room.
    (Will Seymour be back there do you think?)

  • perci

    hey this is the 2nd post today that has united the tribes in a feel-good factor.
    Conflict resolution studies are going to have to add the appendages of
    1) ending the Paisley era
    2) better restaurants

    Who’d have thunk it 😉

  • Bemused

    Dr. Strangelove – I don’t mind James St. South – at least Niall McKenna has a bit of ambition but the food tends to be over-prissy and hit and miss.

    JoeCanuck – if you’re worried about the Goodfellas nonsense I wouldn’t bother – it will be overturned by either the Court of Appeal or the Lords in due course.

  • esmereldavillalobos

    Could I give an honourable mention to Beatrice Kennedy? Mrs lobos and I used to go a lot back in the day but we felt it had slipped before we left. We went there with my parents on a trip home last year and found the food to be approaching its best again though the service was pretty ropey.

    How’s Ink in the four winds these days?

  • Turgon

    Going outside Belfast can I give a mention to the Water Margin in Coleraine. Also though quite cheap and utterly anarchic Kamal’s in Enniskillen, the first time we were there, we booked a table thinking it was very upmarket: we arrived to see the owner throwing out a drunk who was racially abusing him. Good food though.

  • joeCanuck

    The last time I had a meal in Belfast, it was a little restaurant in Bradbury Place.
    The waiter was prompt and asked would we like a drink. I ordered a pint and since my wife was driving our rental she asked for water. What brand, the waiter asked. Just regular water my wife said. Not tap water, the waiter said, looking horrified. My wife confimed and he said sheesh with an upturned nose..

    Is that typical?

  • rusty

    The Melting Pot Brasserie on the Mountpottinger Road is one of the best kept secrets in town. It does a lovely pre-show menu if you’re heading for the nearby Odyssey and the desserts selection is to die for-particularly the sticky toffee pudding.
    Those with an open ming, give it a try next time you’re in the area.

  • dewi

    “I’m with Pounder. Compared to Cardiff Belfast is foodie heaven. Oh, Dewi”

    Might well be the case as I’m desperately trying to find Sausage Beans and Chips in Kings Cross………..nah…we are OK down the Bay – Mimosa highly recommended.

  • BonarLaw


    agreed about Mimosa- the least “plastic” place to eat in the Bay but back towards the city centre? Further afield I like the Olive Tree in Penarth.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Having worked in a mountain of restaurants (though in the bar) in Edinburgh mostly and in Belfast, I’d have to say that James St South is the best restaurant available. Having worked there too I think it means all the more to have that opinion.

    Closely followed by the much less expensive Printer’s – a hidden gem, best service in town too.

    The problem with Belfast is the wine list. So few importers mean your special dinner is, at best, accompanied by a bottle you’ve had for a fiver from a yellow off-licence. And on the whole, as a town to go out for dinner in, Belfast is mediocre in the extreme.

  • BonarLaw


    Also Pica Pica on Westgate Street.

  • Mark McGregor

    I mentioned Spice outside Templepatrick as the only Indian I rate. Is their Lisburn one any good? Any other decent Indian’s?

    I do seriously recommend the drive to Templepatrick. That may be the first time that has ever been said.

  • Mark McGregor
  • Kinso McLetry
  • [i]What about Goodfellas?
    Posted by Moochin Photoman on Feb 18, 2008 @ 09:01 PM[/i]

    Couldn’t afford there. The menu is cheap enough, the after dinner lawsuit is the problem.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m sort of in the middle of the comments here. I would not put Belfast down as a gastronomic delight; but the place has improved a lot in the past ten years.

    I find Deane’s to be up it’s own hole, if you’ll pardon me, and they seem to put a lot of emphasis on banking on their reputation in order to sell food that is merely “quite good”. I like Cayenne better, and Nick’s even better. I have heard that Tedford’s is a real treat but I’ve yet to make it out there.

    I think Mark is right; if they can’t make a decent cup of coffee then it isn’t a good sign. Sadly, very few restaurants in Belfast do coffee properly; certainly the restaurants tend to quite consistently mess it up. For coffee shops, California Coffee and Roast are the best, with Clement’s coming in pretty close as well.

    Bourbon isn’t awful, but I wouldn’t call it great, and I wouldn’t make a point of going there. I would say that anyone who puts it down as being a great restaurant hasn’t got much experience of eating outside Belfast. For Indian we’re getting better (I like Indie Spice in Stranmillis; the Indian contractors I’m working with, to my great surprise, think that the Archana on Dublin Road is the best?!?), but nothing we’ve got comes close to touching the curry houses in Birmingham. Chinese we do better at, with the Sun Kee and Water Margin on Donegall Pass being the best, but you’ll still find better ones easily elsewhere in the UK. I also like the Lee Garden for a slightly more upscale experience.

    IMO, the biggest problem that we have here is that the service totally sucks in most places.

  • kensei

    Anywhere else even worth commenting on? Not as far as I’m concerned

    I have only had a bad experience in Tedford’s once, and that was service rather than food. Olio is our unspectacular but reliable restaurant of choice.

  • heck

    God -maybe I don’t belong in Belfast anymore!!! Everytime I’m home all I want is a few pints of Smithwicks and a curried chip on the way home!

  • Ben

    I’ve had a couple of really fine Indian meals at Mogul Gardens at the corner of Botanic and Cromwell, not too steep as well. Cheers, Ben


    “More enjoyable to eat out in Belfast than in Provence”

    My arse.

    Although Mourne Seafood is genuinely brilliant.

  • Shu is my favourite restaurant in Belfast, much superior to Deane’s in my opinion.

  • DK


    I was at Tedfords recently and it was excellent. Other places of note:

    26 Talbot Street – very good – plus in Cathedral Qtr, which is a bonus
    Mourne Seafood – excellent – my 1st choice
    Suwanna – Still the best thai in Belfast (honourable mention to Thai tanic for the name and also the only thai takeaway & still very good)
    Vagos – very good
    Square (Dublin Road) – also good
    Zen – Not pure Japanese, but still good: Maki rolls are supurb value.
    Ten Square – biq, quality portions (last time I went to porcelain upstairs – years ago – it was also good)
    Merchant – Very good, if overpriced. Cocktail bar makes it an unforgettable experience.
    Nicks – always reliable

    One to be wary of – Deanes bistro near the Ulster Hall is getting more expensive and worse quality. Was excellent when it was Choc Dee (sp?).

    Hidden Gems – the small Phillippino lunch places are very good value and wonderful food (all done in little slow cookers). There is one on Castle street and a bigger one opposite (sort of) the Belfast Telegraph (it’s the one that used to be in the In-Shops).

    Couple of things Belfast lacks are a decent Indian of Glasgow quality, a quality Italian (antica roma much missed) and some more obscure ethnic food (vietnamese, korean, cajun, etc. – Istafan barely counts as a Malaysian).

    All the recent increase in range and quality is not surprising – Belfast is now a very affluent city with a lot of disposable income out there.

  • McKinstry had a virtually identical article in The Speccie a couple of years ago. It’s probably easier to recycle the Single Transferrable Article on the benefits of the peace process than to do some journalism.

    Actually, I think people here are being a bit too negative on eating out here, which at the end of the day is always a quick way to demonstrate your own culturedness and superiority! Food and service here are generally fine as long as you avoid the overpriced top end. Though I’ll admit that if Glasgow and Edinburgh are your culinary role models, even for Indian food, then you have problems.

  • Icantbelieveitsnotbelfast

    As the rays of the setting sun accentuated the glorious purple of the fields of Provençal lavender and he gazed around at the gorgeous medieval village nestling on the side of the hill, he took another sip of wine and sighed,´Oh I wish I was eating this meal in Belfast.´
    Just then a van drew up and two men in white coats got out…

  • The__Raven

    Turgon, the Water Margin is certainly excellent, and I like it a lot, but do you think it’s “up there” with the best?

    Mark, if you like Indian Food, try the Indus in Coleraine too if you are ever up this way.

  • NP

    whats with this Nicks supporters club ? the best i could say about it is its solid. It has consistantly disappointed each time ive dined there.

    Joe re. water, got a similar reaction in the Spaniard

    Used to rate Printers, but it has deffinately slipped

  • Dewi

    O’Neills in Cardiff town actually pretty good – sausage and mash (culconan or something) £3.50 – that’s where I take my staff….if things have gone well.!

  • James D

    Being a student, my eat out budget is limited,

    but I do consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of fine Indian food.

    In Belfast, it has to be Jhana on the Lisburn Road. Its recently been done up into a ‘posh’ curry house. Which of course means higher prices, but the food and service is excellent. The menu has some really brilliant dishes.

    Probably the best curry house is Bokora in Holywood. I’ve never had a bad experience there. I can only assume its catering for the more curry aware population of squaddies.